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  • Writer's pictureAnna Peterson

Starting School Right: A Roadmap Every High School Student Needs at Year’s Start

As the halls of high schools come alive with the buzz of a new school year, it's an opportune time to embark on a journey that goes beyond the classroom—a journey that leads to higher education. While the academic year is just beginning, the decisions you make now can shape your path toward college and beyond. That's why, right at the beginning of the school year, I'm excited to share a roadmap designed to guide students through the pivotal steps toward higher education.

Early High School (Years 9-10): The Foundation Stage

  1. Academic Performance: Lay the groundwork for success by focusing on your grades. Your early high school performance contributes to your cumulative GPA, an important factor in college applications.

  2. Explore Extracurriculars: Engage in clubs, sports, arts, or community service activities. This is your opportunity to discover your interests and passions while building a well-rounded profile. Research shows that the more involved you are in extracurricular activities, the more likely you are to have better grades, attendance, and stay in school and reach your academic goals!

  3. Engage with Your Counselor: Establish a connection with your guidance counselor early on. They will be an invaluable resource as you navigate through school and prepare for college. You will meet with your counselor each year, making it an opportune time for you to establish a relationship with your counselor. Your counselor is there to help you, and guide you through your educational journey.

Junior Year (Year 11): The Preparatory Stage

  1. Standardized Testing: Begin preparing for the SAT or ACT. Consider taking practice tests and explore prep courses to enhance your performance. Check with your school counselor to see what testing prep classes are available to you in your area. Many schools and communities offer resources to students who want to prepare for the SAT or ACT.

  2. Narrow Down College Choices: Research universities based on your desired major, campus culture, and location. Create a list of potential colleges that align with your aspirations. There are many free online websites that offer free interest inventories and activities that will help you understand what profession will best fit your interests, personality, and desires for the future!

  3. Visit Campuses: Once you have made a list of colleges that you are interested in, embark on campus visits if possible to get a feel for the environment and community of your potential colleges.

  4. Resume Building: Document your academic achievements, extracurricular involvements, leadership roles, and community service. This will be instrumental when crafting your applications. I tell all of the students that I work with to start early by keeping track of your accomplishments and awards in a folder kept in a safe place. This way when you begin working on your resume, and applying for scholarships and colleges, you have everything documented in one place when you need it!

Senior Year (Year 12): The Application Stage

  1. Finalize Your College List: Create a balanced list of reach, match, and safety schools that align with your preferences and goals. Make sure that these schools align with your interests and the field of study that you would like to pursue.

  2. Letters of Recommendation: Approach teachers, counselors, or mentors for recommendation letters. Provide them with your resume to help them highlight your strengths. You can keep these letters digitally or in your college preparation folder that we discussed earlier.

  3. Craft Your Personal Statement: Dedicate time to reflect on your experiences and write a thoughtful personal statement. Revise it multiple times to ensure it authentically represents you. You can include strengths, weaknesses, trials you have overcome in your life, or special achievements of hobbies you have pursued. The more creative you get with your personal statement, the better! You want to stand out from the crowd and show what makes you special and unique. Remember, everyone has something that makes them stand out in their own way!

  4. Fill Out Applications: Keep track of application requirements and deadlines for each college. Stay organized to avoid missing any important dates. We recommend keeping a handwritten list or an online spreadsheet such as google sheets or excel.

  5. Seek Scholarships: Research and apply for scholarships. Explore opportunities within your local community, businesses, and the colleges themselves. There are thousands of scholarships available in your community, state, and even throughout the country. You can apply for multiple scholarships, so get out there and apply to as many that you can! You may ask your counselor for support with this.

  6. Stay Organized: Utilize a calendar to manage application, scholarship, and financial aid deadlines. Staying organized is key to a successful application process.

Post Application

  1. Await Decisions Patiently: While waiting for admission decisions can be nerve-wracking, remember that you've done your part and now it's time to trust the process.

  2. Evaluate Offers: Once you receive acceptance letters and financial aid packages, assess your options carefully with your family's input.

  3. Say Thank You: Express gratitude to those who supported you along the way, especially those who wrote your letters of recommendation.

  4. Prepare for Transition: Attend orientations, engage with future classmates online, and begin preparing for your college journey.

  5. Stay true to you: Everyone is different and unique. You may be selected for different opportunities, schools, and scholarships. Sometimes outcomes do not turn out the way we hope. Just remember it is ok to be disappointed if things do not turn out the way you envisioned. Do not give up and be open to alternative possibilities.

In closing, just remember that as the new school year begins, the choices you make today can lead to a brighter tomorrow. Stay connected with us on our website and social media channels for ongoing tips, insights, and guidance. Your higher education journey is a marathon, not a sprint, and this roadmap is here to support you every step of the way.

Wishing you a successful academic year ahead!

Anna Peterson

VirtuOwl Counselor

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